Friday, January 22, 2010

Debrief - When's Your Magic Hour?

As you might have guessed reading the last few posts here on The Prairies, a bunch of us have been involved in Book-in-a-Week. This is an annual event our writing group, Saskatchewan Romance Writers, take on to jump start the new year and focus our attention on writing that, hopefully, will continue on during the next 11 months. We set goals and report in daily – urging each other to meet those goals or to stretch even further. But what about after the event? What do we take away from a week of scribbling like mad women? Do we even give it any thought?

I firmly believe that if you’re going to put yourself through such an ordeal, be it BIAW or NaNoWriMo, you should take some time to evaluate after the event concludes. Debrief, if you will – most likely my teaching background coming back to haunt me, I always evaluated the lesson, even if it was just a quick replay of the events in my head. What went right? What went wrong? What felt good? Were your goals too high? Too low? What would you change next time? Can you pick a natural strength that emerged during the week? What was the best antidote to getting stuck? Make some notes so that the next time, you’re ready. This information will also help you in your daily writing habits.

Here’s my evaluation so far:

I am not a morning person. I get up, usually grumpy because I have to get up, struggle to pour coffee into my cup without spilling it, barely move through the motions of a routine to start the day. Now, thankfully, I work from home and don’t have to try and get out of the house on time and get to work in a semi-coherent state while at some point along the road lose my owl-y mood and plaster a smile on my face. I can just plop down in my chair and stare miserably at my computer. Therefore, writing in the morning is not the best time of day for me. And if you think I’m bad, you should see Muse!

The afternoon is a little better. I am fully awake and have had the daily ration of coffee consumed. I’ve eaten breakfast and lunch and therefore am not distracted by a grumbling tummy. But my brain is going at high speed, thoughts of work swirling through my mind and my "To Do" list close at hand. This, I find, is the best time to get the nasty housework, laundry, or other chores done. I have a physical energy that is not conducive to writing. In other words, I can’t sit still.

Now early evening is lounge time. I have a cup of tea right after supper and sprawl on the couch watching the news of the day and perhaps a sitcom or entertainment show for a half hour after that. My brain starts to slow down – anything that needed done had better been done by that time because I don’t want to worry about it after supper (Dinner? Supper? Everyone seems to use a different term for the evening meal – I wonder why that is?). This is also the time when I pick up a word puzzle or Sudoku or the weekly paper, which I devour every word, every advertisement. Writing is the last thing on my mind.

Then around 8ish, I start to imagine. The story I’m working on, the new idea that popped into my head just before I went to sleep the evening before, a blogpost idea. My brain comes alive with characters, scenes, settings. Words come quickly. Images take hold and refuse to let go until I get them down on paper or type them into the computer. With the stillness and quiet I am more likely to listen to what Muse has to say. And I am less likely to skip away to another subject or task that needs doing. 8 until midnight is my ‘magic hour’.

During BIAW, the focus is on writing and meeting goals. To do that, many of us have to write outside of our usual ‘magic hour’. Many of us raise the bar and challenge ourselves to write incredibly high daily word counts. To do that, we must write as much as possible. And we will write during times when our body, mind and soul are not in the mood to write. Many of us are editing and revising, tasks best left to when the mind is fresh and sharp. Not when it’s begging us to turn out the light and go to bed, already!

I’ve learned that I can write at all times of the day once I get my butt in the chair and focus on the task at hand. But I’ve also learned that afternoon is still not the best time. I’m too fidgety. I have too many things to do besides write. There are too many distractions. My ‘magic hour’ is still perfect, but morning is emerging as another great time to get those ideas out of my head and onto the paper. Maybe my brain is still fuzzy from sleep, my dream world still close enough that imagination is easy to grasp and willing to play.

Right now, with a day job to pay the bills, I’m going to use this information and rearrange my day. I was, up until BIAW, focused on the day job’s tasks in the morning. Now, I’m going to spend the next week using the morning hours to write, day job hours in the afternoon, and then my ‘magic hour’ to continue to write. Once I can ditch the day job and write fulltime (fingers, toes crossed), I will use that afternoon time to edit and revise. In theory, and based on my evaluation, it should work.

So, People of Blogland, when do you find is the best time to write? Do you have times of the day that are better suited for revising as opposed to creative, first draft stuff? Have you ever taken the time to evaluate your efforts after a BIAW or NaNoWriMo event?


Karyn Good said...

I do take a moment after big pushes and smaller pushes, like NaNo and BIAW, to see what worked and what didn't and what I can change for next time. I should probably starting writing the findings down instead of trusting it to brain storage though :D

My twitchy time of day is morning while the afternoon is more settled. So I guess I'm more productive revising wise in the afternoon and in the evening before 9:00 pm. If I have running around to do or things to organize I like to do that in the morning. That's if the planets all align and stuff.

My magic writing hours would have to be between 1 and 3 pm. And when I think about it, it's incredible what I can get done during that time compared to other times of the day.

Great post, Janet. It does help to think these things through so you can better manage your day and your productivity.

JoanneBrothwell said...

I think it's so important to listen to our bodies and work around our natural rhythm that is most productive. That's usually when we'll see the most productivity. But you're right; sometimes we can just push ourselves when we don't really feel like it. Kind of like exercise, it usually feels better after the first ten minutes.

Helena said...

I should know all about debriefing. In my previous (working) life, evaluation was an everyday thing -- programs, events, staff performance, my own performance (there is nothing harder than self-evaluation!).

I haven't been too faithful about detailed analysis of BIAW over the years, and with NaNoWriMo I just enjoyed the glow of meeting my objective. However, besides the general feeling of 'it went well' (or not), I do have a secret weapon. I always keep a log during these special events, so it is entirely possible to go back and review my 'performance.'

You are right that when we are trying for quantity, we tend to write in time slots that are not our normal ones, but sometimes those help to define what is normal. I like to make up schedules for myself, which too often get ignored, but generally the times I set aside for writing and writing-related activities are in the morning (8:30 - 10:30) after my early morning walk and breakfast, followed by a half hour which I use to check e-mail and blogs, then the next two hours are allotted to research, reading about writing, or more writing.

Another block of time I find productive for writing is late afternoon, 3:30 - 6:00. This may be in addition to the morning, or instead of. One thing I have to avoid in the morning is doing things like email, blogs, or reading the daily paper first (as I've done today), otherwise morning writing will just go by the board. Time is frittered away and so is my focus. If I don't allow myself to start anything else, I am more able to plunge in where I left off the day before.

And then there is the late, late night (not scheduled) block when I have something going that I can't stop. It was my favourite study/essay writing time when I was a student, so sometimes that time slot returns to haunt me.

The greatest benefit of stints of intense writing, such as BIAW and NaNo, is the enforcement of the daily habit of writing. This has been my downfall ever since I began writing. I know it just doesn't work to have the "I'll write when I feel like it" attitude, because then it becomes a pastime instead of the second career I intended.

As for writing first drafts vs revising, I haven't noticed any time that suited one over the other. If my 'assignment' is to revise, then that is what I do in my writing time slot. I find writing first drafts harder at any time. They seem to have to follow fairly closely on a period of intense imagination (seeing scenes in my head) which is different from plotting, doing timelines, etc. -- the more rational, methodical tasks. These scenes that I imagine can come to me in the dead of night, while I'm walking or watching TV, any time. So I have to be ready to get them down at the first opportunity. Thus, the importance of establishing a daily routine.

Wow, Janet. Thanks for making me sit down and think about this!

Janet said...

I never really gave it much thought either, Karyn, but after writing this post, I know what my day needs to look like. Now to stick to the plan!

Over on Janet's Journal, Lu has left a great comment about making writing a priority - and to do it first. I like her reasoning behind it and am now going to look at perhaps restructuring my day around that philosopy (I see Helena also works on that theory). That would mean getting my private blog post up the night before - which will take some juggling (I've become very habitual about posting my blog post first thing in the morning, but it takes a while and then I move onto the day job, thus using up all my creative, priority time for blogging instead of drafting - wait, I think I may need to write some of this down - I feel an emotional, aha jounal moment coming on). Did anyone follow that spew?

Now, Karyn, if you could block out the 1-3 timeslot everyday for just writing, imagine what you could get done! You'd be on fire, girl.

Janet said...

Please don't discuss exercise, Joanne. I have no idea when I'm going to fit that into the equation! There are just not enough hours in the day - and it doesn't help that exercise is not at the top of my list of activities I want to do :)

But you've hit on an important aspect - our circadian rhythm. Pushing ourselves now and then is great (and a perfect learning tool), but overdoing it could leave us tired, cranky, and unwilling to continue.

Janet said...

You are welcome, Helena! You had quite the conversation there - and made a lot of sense. I love the fact that you put writing first, before the e-mails and blogs. And you are so right when you say it's so easy to fritter away the time.

Also, I love this: "...because then it becomes a pastime instead of the second career I intended." This ties in with what Lu said over on JJ - make writing a priority if that's what you want. If it's a hobby, then write when you feel like it. If it's what you really, really want to do - then go after it with enthusiasm and focus.

So glad to see you today, Helena - good luck on this final day (sounds like, even without a big word count, you've made some real progress in with your story).

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
Helena and Lu are absolutely right. If you don't consciously put writing first everyday it falls by the wayside.

That's easier said than done, unfortunately. My best natural writing time is in the morning from about 9 to 12, or sometimes a little earlier. But that's also the time I'm usually at work, so that makes things difficult. I occassionally manage to write in the evening, like when I'm on a deadline or truly inspired like I was the other night. But normally by evening, I'm done.

I took this week off for BIAW and it's going pretty well. I have to admit I'm getting tired since I haven't exercised my writing muscles for a while. I've written over 16,000 words since last Saturday and I'm determined to get to my goal of 20,000 by next Monday (I'm lengthening my BIAW). I'm determined mostly because I know once this week is over it's back to work with limited writing time that is not in my magic hour. So I have to make the most of it right now.


Hayley E. Lavik said...

Luckily I rarely have the urge to go off and do household chores. No twitching desires to fold clothes. If the urge to fold clothes arises, it means I'm so frustrated with my work that any escape is looking good!

I have this hunch that, like you Janet, I could probably get some really good writing down in the early morning, if only I were awake then. The prospect of that early-early quiet time is very appealing, but the actual execution of it just aint gonna happen. Not when my best working time takes me into 3 in the morning!

Hubby and I have figured out a pretty good rhythm between his schedule and mine. I've found I get my best work done either mid afternoon, or in the evening onward to middle of the night. Depending whether he's on days or nights, one of those blocks gets used and the other goes to time with him. Either way the midnight block still comes up, though, because he can't pull the same hours as me anymore.

I find I can't just get up and write, partly because I do not like to put off getting cleaned up and dressed any longer than necessary. All day in pajamas, I am not. I do best with some sort of complete halting and starting of tasks... such as immediately after getting ready, or after lunch, before letting anything else distract. Even just putting anything else away and going to make a cup of tea helps. We develop little unconscious rituals as we prepare for writing, and that seems to be one of mine. I originally started the tea thing as a means of getting into the mindset after so much school ("I will boil water, set up my space, make tea, and when it steeps, I get cracking," which gave me a few minutes of dithering to get down to business) and now it's a very good habit to fall back on. Once the kettle's on, the rest falls into place.

And speaking of blogs, I decided several months back that if I didn't get a blog done the night before it's date, that it just wasn't going to go up, because it can wind up taking so long so fart around typing up a post and then half the writing time is gone. Writing just has to take priority, and after all, it's only a blog. I have a fairly regular schedule, but if I'm going to be disciplined about maintaining precise regularity with something, it should be writing, not blogging. I'll be interested to hear how you find a possible switch to blogging your journals the night before, and the subsequent clear time in the morning!

Silver James said...

OMG! Janet, where did you find that picture of me??!!!? That's exactly what I look like when I sit down to write.

I guess I'm lucky. I can write anywhere, anytime. I just need to be "left alone", ie. no distractions from the humans in my world. I fear Iffy is a fickle Muse. She'll wake me up at 4 a.m. or keep me up until 4 a.m. when the notion hits her. She's bad about timing. LOL

Everyone is correct, though. You need to find THE time when you feel most creative and set it aside. That's your sacrosanct writing time. Nothing else (other than a true emergency or doctor's appointment--though you can write in the waiting room, lol) should interfere with that time.

Setting up a time makes the difference between hobby and job (even if it's not a paid job at the moment). Don't let others intrude. When you take the time seriously, so will they.

I'm gonna miss y'all! I'll see you back on the prairies around 8 Feb. *hugs*

Janet said...

It's amazing how tired we become when writing full time - pushing ourselves beyond the norm - focusing on a task exclusive to all other tasks. I know, like you Jana, I'm exhausted and I don't even want to think about doing a full month (NaNoWriMo)!

You have done so very well - your story is going to rock and, hopefully, with having this big chunk done, you can move into revisions bit by bit (when the time away from the day job allows).

Speaking of which - is there anyway you could change your hours? I remember you saying you work part time - would the powers that be let you rearrange your day so that your "magic hour" is freed up?

And your third in the line up of make writing a priority. I'm going to tweak my schedule for next week and see where the change takes me :)

Janet said...

It's funny, Hayley, I am not a morning person. With the day job now taking place from home, I've gotten into a daily rhythm of rising around 7:30/8. It feels natural, so that's good. And my morning blog posts have been, for the most part, pretty creative. I've enjoyed exercising the writing muscle, as Jana puts it, that early. I think with the switch up next week, I might be pleasantly surprised by the output first thing in the morning. And I will keep you posted on the progress, success, frustration.

Now as to my blog - I promised myself this would be a daily blogpost, if nothing else, a short, snappy post to get my writerly juices flowing (somewhat like morning pages advised by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way). Unfortunately, I write long. And my posts are more than just snappy snippets. But, there is a but, most of my posts take me only 30 minutes. In fact, I make sure they are only take that much time (sometimes a little over when I'm searching for the perfect word or I have some formatting issues). I've come to look forward to that little bit of chit chat writing in the morning - so a night post will be interesting. I will definitely keep you informed :)

Love the ritual you have for preparing to write. I read somewhere an author (sorry, can't remember her name) always puts a certain ring (and the ring had signficance in someway) on alerting her body and soul that it was writing time. I liked that when I read it - and I like your ritual of tea :)

Janet said...

Silver - if we ever room together at a conference, we'll have to at least make sure we have different colored fuzzy slippers so we can tell us apart!

You are very lucky that you can write at anytime. And I want to thank you for using sacrosanct - our writing should be considered sacred. As both you and Helena state - if we want to take others to respect and acknowledge our writing careers, then so must we!

Have a fabulous cruise. We'll miss you here on The Prairies :)

connie said...

My schedule is the same as your's except, in the morning, I would be hard pressed to write my name, which is interesting for me because all the years as a journalist, I worked from 6 a.m. to (theoretically) 2 p.m. Court all morning, then write it up and then, sure as God made little green apples, the editor would assign me something that would just 'take a moment' and turned out to be very similar to War and Peace to research and write. She was a lab tech and how she got to be editor no one will ever know. I would rather she drew blood.
My day couldn't follow a to do list for love nor money. People do not kill other people according to schedule, nor to buildings burn at regular hours. Drat.
Raising four teenagers at one time means there isn't a hope in Hell of maintaining any kind of schedule whatsoever, ever. My point is, I am utterly incapable of disciplined anything. Clocks are wasted on me.
That said, I usually write from an hour or so after dinner and stick at until I am done - IF I feel like writing at all.
Re: dinner vs supper:I was once told by an extremely pretentious lady that saying dinner or supper states your status in society. Those of lofty noses have luncheon and dinner. Us peasants have dinner at noon (back to the fields guys) and supper in the evening. (she was my first mother-in-law) (put me off those, I'll tell you) and HER father was a coal miner.
Yes everybody, you're dead right - a writer should have definite writing hours everyday. But, for reasons given above, it ain't gonna happen in this den of iniquity anytime soon (or later).
This BIAW total results were so mixed, I won't even tell me.
My natural rhythm reminds me of a joke: (it would, wouldn't it?) A man was asked what he would like people to say as they looked at him as he lay in his coffin. He said, "I'd like them to say 'look! I think he moved.'" That's me. "Look. I think she moved!"
Exercise? Ahhh Joanne..
Housework? Hayley beware. It's awful stuff. Tried it. Didn't like it.
Helena Your morning discipline is either extremely praiseworthy or utterly disgusting. From my POV....
Happy house results

Anita Mae Draper said...

Love your new schedule - I see you didn't add time for the housecleaning. Hahaha.

I've spent BIAW revising and making progress - which I haven't reported. Not that I didn't want to but it just slipped away from me.

My best writing time has always been 9pm to 2 am. This past year though, I've had trouble staying awake after midnight but this week, I was so enthused with Emma's story, it wasn't a problem.

I'm revising this week but I'm also writing new stuff which has to be re-read and revised before I can go on. So some days it seems like I've only done a couple hundred words, but it's real quality stuff.

I haven't sat down to evaluate because I know the process works - when you're writing new. When you're revising, it's a good reason to get out of household chores. :)

Good post, Janet.

Julia Smith said...

Loved this post, Janet! I'm not a morning person, either - and I freely admit it at my day job, which requires me to be at my desk by the ungodly hour of 8:30. *shudder*

My magic time is the same as yours, but during the NaNo marathon, I too pushed past my normal bleh to write earlier in the day.

Having just completed NaNo's madness in November, I took December off and didn't write a word. But I started up again in January and was both amused by some of the stuff I wrote which doesn't make sense (!) and also very happy with a lot of other stuff. I'm especially thrilled with a lot of backstory I wrote purely for wordcount, which I wouldn't have done otherwise - and which has given me some amazing scenes.

Janet said...

Your previous life sounds hectic and harried, Connie. If I were you, I, too, would eschew housework, lounge about all day, and snub my nose at routine of any kind! And it seems we have a majority of night writers (hey, could be a new TV series?).

Thanks for giving us a glimpse into what it must have been like as a journalist. And your joke - very cute :)

Janet said...

Thanks, Anita - figured when you hadn't popped in to the blog to report, you were knee deep in revisions and writing. I'm glad BIAW went so well.

Isn't it amazing how you can ignore that clock that says it's time for bed when you've got something grand to hold your attention. But if it's boring or your interest wans, bedtime can't come fast enough :)

Janet said...

Hey, Julia - good to 'see' you over here today. You get the same commercials I do - the one about the woman stomping her way into work, spilling coffee down the guys shirt, flinging another one into the mail cart, destroying a receptionist's collection of trolls and finally breaking Mr. Perky Morning Guy's cell phone? Yep, I giggle every time because I'm pretty sure that was me!

I'm hoping in the aftermath of BIAW that I, too, will be pleasantly surprised and not everything I've written is dreck. Good for you for getting back into it in January - I've heard a lot of people who leave off in December find it very hard to get back into a rountine in January.